Ex-DEA Administrators Call on Obama to Sue if CA Voters Legalize Pot

As California voters gear up for a November 2 vote on Proposition 19, a ballot measure that would legalize the growth, possession and distribution of marijuana, nine former administrators of the Drug Enforcement Administration have issued a preemptive call to the White House: If Prop 19 passes, they say, President Obama should sue.

The Associated Press reports that in an August 24 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the former DEA officials wrote that the potential legalization of marijuana would challenge federal authority and merit a lawsuit against the state – much like the one Mr. Obama has filed in protest of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which the administration say contradicts national policy.

“We would expect the Department of Justice to act just as swiftly and for the same reason,” the DEA administrators said of the potential passage of Proposition 19.

The upcoming vote has incited heated national debate on the issue of cannabis  legalization, and Californians once again find themselves in a position to set national precedent with a controversial ballot measure. If passed, Californians 21 and older would be the first Americans with the legal right to use marijuana recreationally.

Proponents of the measure argue that legalizing pot would allow for increased regulation of it, and that taxing the drug could bring much-needed revenue to the state. But Gil Kerlikowske, Obama’s drug czar, argued in an op-ed to the Los Angeles Times that while it would be “impossible to predict precisely the consequences of wholesale legalization,” he could say “with near certainty” that marijuana use would increase with the passage of Prop 19 – and so would the social costs associated with drug use.

But whether or not the Obama administration would be willing to intervene in the matter is unclear. The Justice Department has not issued a statement in response to the letter, and unlike with the case of immigration, the president has not made the legalization of marijuana a central focus of his political agenda.

– Article from CBS News.

Former House Counsel Overseeing DEA Says Drug Chiefs’ Prop 19 Plea More About Politics Than Facts

by Eric Sterling, Firedoglake

Earlier today, a collection of former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration garnered a lot of media attention for voicing opposition to California’s Proposition 19. As Jane Hamsher explained:

Nine former DEA heads held a press conference this morning to promote their letter to Eric Holder, asking the Justice Department to intervene and challenge Prop 19 if it passes (PDF). They claim that since the Justice Department moved so quickly to oppose the Arizona immigration law, it’s their obligation to do the same here.

I worked directly with DEA Administrators Bensinger, Mullen, and Lawn in the 1980s, and have had debates or conversations with Bonner, Constantine, and Hutchinson.

First, this letter (PDF) is the clearest indication that the drug prohibition establishment recognizes the political attractiveness and unique importance of Prop. 19. I cannot recall any previous collaboration of former DEA Administrators of this kind. If our national marijuana prohibition policy were not so clearly failing and not so close to being replaced with real controls, they would never have mobilized in this way to defend it. If Prop. 19 were not proposing a system of control that is so logical and straight forward that it is widely politically attractive, they would not be mobilizing this kind of collaboration.

Second, this letter makes a most cursory defense of our failed marijuana policy in calling for an extraordinary remedy: block Prop. 19 in the court because it is a political challenge to premises of the federal law.

Do the former DEA Administrators defend the federal marijuana prohibition with evidence that marijuana’s harms to users are so great that users must be denied the liberty to take the minimal risks attendant to its use? No, they cite an annual “strategy document” that has historically been an instrument of political propaganda, and was never taken seriously a genuine policy or planning document for addressing public safety or public health problems.

Do the former Administrators defend the current prohibition policy because it reduces crime? Of course not.

Do they offer any argument that the United States will be harmed if California legalizes adult use of marijuana? No.

Do they suggest that the international prestige of the United States will be undermined in any respect of Prop. 19 passes? Of course not, for the opposite is true as suggested by the recent Washington Post commentary of Mexico’s former foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda.

Third, they are wrong on the key question regarding the merits of the lawsuit they desire the Attorney General to file. Proposition 19 withdraws California enforcement of its marijuana law which is its Constitutional prerogative. The Supreme Court ruled in the Printz case that Congress cannot “commandeer” state officials to enforcement federal laws. This is different from the Arizona immigration situation in which Arizona sought to authorize state conduct based on federal immigration status, and to create offenses based on federal immigration status. Immigration is explicitly a Federal power in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution. Marijuana prohibition is not in the Constitution. Federal power over marijuana is based on the commerce clause. Our law is filled with areas in which there is both federal and state regulation of various aspects of commerce. The Controlled Substances Act, unlike the Federal Communications Act, does not exclude states from regulation.

On its face, Prop. 19 is a completely different concept. Historically, Prop. 19 is akin to the act of the New York legislature repealing its alcohol prohibition law in 1923 which was perfectly lawful and Constitutional.

Eric E. Sterling is the President of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a private non-profit educational organization that helps educate the nation about criminal justice problems. As a former Assistant Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee (1979-1989), Mr. Sterling was responsible for writing federal drug laws. He serves on the advisory board of Just Say Now.

– Article from Firedoglake.